While Canada hasn't made the World Cup since 1986, there's still plenty of Canadian interest in the event. TV ratings have been strongthroughout the tournament, so many Canadians are following from home, but there are also remarkable numbers who have headed to Brazil to watch the World Cup in person. From Charmaine Noronha of The Associated Press, Canadians have bought more tickets to World Cup games in the last two tournaments than citizens of any other country not taking part:
The nation known more for shooting pucks than penalty kicks fields a national team that ranks 110th in the world, tied with Bahrain. But its fierce love for the beautiful game has been on display for all the world to see in Brazil. FIFA organizers say Canadians bought more than 29,000 tickets to World Cup matches, outranking all other nations that didn't qualify for the Cup and behind only 10 nations that did.
Canada was also the top non-competing nation in attendance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, officials say.
That's pretty remarkable, especially considering that neither Brazil nor South Africa is particularly accessible from Canada. A flight from Toronto to Rio de Janeiro is estimated to take almost 11 hours non-stop, while someone travelling from Toronto to Cape Town would have to spend almost 17 hours in the air (and generally over 24 hours once transfers are counted, as there are no direct flights between the cities). Of course, many of the world's most populous and wealthy nations are already in the World Cup (for example, the entire G8 minus Canada made it this time around), and the highly-populated countries that aren't there (China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc) tend to be focused on sports other than soccer. Still, Canada is estimated to be 37th in the world in population: being 11th in World Cup tickets bought is impressive, especially for a country whose national team has only made it to the tournament once, and plenty of fans have made it there, including the one who held a Canadian flag high during the Costa Rica-Greece match.
Could that love for the World Cup translate into support for the Canadian men's national team? Well, it hasn't always so far. During their attempts to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, the team's final three home matches (in June, September and October, all at Toronto's BMO Field) drew 16,132, 17,586 and 17,712 fans respectively, nowhere near the stadium's listed capacity of 21,556. The one home friendly since then drew even worse, with a May 2013 match at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium (capacity of 56,302) attracting just 8,102 fans. Canadian jerseys have also been notably absent from most sports retailers' shelves in the flurry of World Cup sales, and there doesn't seem to be strong demand for retailers to change that yet. That's not to say there's no passion for the men's national team; on the contrary, many of its fans are some of the most loyal and devoted supporters you'll find anywhere, remarkable considering the team's lack of recent results. However, the country-wide passion for soccer (seen in everything from World Cup ratings to MLS teams to popularity as a youth sport) hasn't yet turned into widespread backing for the Canadian men's national team.
That might change with improved results, though, and that's what we're starting to see on the women's side. Performances like the Canadian women's team's unexpected bronze-medal showing at the 2012 Olympics have built excitement around that squad, especially considering that they're hosting the Women's World Cup in 2015. The women's team pulled in 28,255 fans in Winnipeg in May for a friendly against the U.S., and while the 15,618 they drew for another friendly against Germany in Vancouver in June was less remarkable, there's still plenty of buzz around that side. As the Women's World Cup gets closer, they'll undoubtedly get even more attention. That may happen for the men, too; there's plenty that can be done to improve this squad, and if some of that starts to happen, success can breed success. More elite athletes might stick with soccer, more top players with Canadian ties might choose to suit up for the country, and media and fan excitement about the Canadian team might build. It's clear Canadians are excited about World Cup soccer; the trick now is just to translate that into excitement about the men's national team.